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For the past three years we’ve been going to Dîner en Blanc. It’s without question our favorite night of the year here in Paris. Sure, Bastille Day (Fête nationale) probably ranks as our favorite overall day. There’s the parades, air show, picnics, and the fireworks. But for one incredible night- Dîner en Blanc takes the cake. Though, the Versailles Ball comes in closely after that.
As longtime readers might remember, the entire evening is shrouded in secrecy and rules. It’s essentially a gigantic flash mob with upwards of 10,000 people setting out to have an elaborate self-served multi-course dinner.
While the organizers start planning nearly a year in advance scoping out locations, for participants it starts in the early spring when you attempt to secure an invite. Typically once you’ve made it in, then you’re good to go for future years. Eventually you might even make your way up the ladder to be able to invite others. While there are Facebook fan pages and the like, you can’t simply go online and purchase a ticket like you might for a public event. You have to be invited. Oh, and even the location is kept secret until minutes before you arrive. And we haven’t even gotten to the rules yet!
First, assuming you’ve organized your group carefully, you’ll have everyone meet at a location given to you around lunch-time on the day of the event. This is just a staging location, and there are probably a hundred such locations spread within a 15-20 minute walk of the final venue for the evening. In our case, it was a bar. The bar across the street was another staging location. As was the bar one block away.
Another way to look at this is basically a way to pre-drink. Proper hydration is important for a successful evening.
One of the first of many rules of the evening is that you have to take everything with you. Both in, as well as out. This isn’t a restaurant. Rather, it’s a super upscale picnic. You must have a square or rectangular table. That table must have a white tablecloth. You must have chairs; those chairs should ideally be covered in white. You must have three courses. You must have silverware (not plastic ware). You must have proper glass/porcelain plates, not plastic. And so on. All of which you must carry yourself.
Then comes a short wait, it’s usually about an hour after the time the organizer or team leader told you to meet. Think of this as buffer time for those in the group that are always late.
Then at around 9PM you’ll receive a text message, which sets us off on a great migration across the city. Upwards of 10,000 people start to wind through the streets towards the previously unannounced final destination. In our case, it was about a 20 minute walk. Probably a bit slower because people are dragging with them their entire dining room.
Soon we arrived at the spot for this evening – Place Vendôme. This massive square is surrounded by buildings with a large monument in the middle. The Ministère de la Justice overlooks it all.
The first step upon arrival is getting your tables all setup. There are row markers and the tables must be setup in long rows stretching across the square. After all, it’s a communal affair – one giant party. You don’t want any small 2-person tables. Date night this is not.
Groups coordinate on what to bring. Candles, vases, white flowers are all requirements for a proper Diner en Blanc table. As is vast amounts of wine (or sparkling apple juice in The Girl’s case). But the coordination also gets down to the food too. For example, we brought an appetizer as well as a large cake for more than just our tables. And yes, we had to carry that in too!
To start off the evening there’s the traditional napkin twirl. That’s why you bring proper cloth napkins of course.
Then it’s definitely time to dive into the food and begin enjoying an evening with friends. In our group’s case – everything was homemade. It’s just better that way. Though, it might help that a large portion of our table seems to be in the culinary business in one way or another.
Some of our friends from Newfoundland also had their parents in town, who definitely got the experience of a lifetime.
At this point people spend the next hour or so getting through the first two courses of their dinner. You can wander around as you see fit as well, which increases the communal atmosphere. People from other tables come over, share some wine or food, and you do the same.
Up on the balconies of the Ministère de la Justice, some workers popped out to check things out. No doubt they had the best view of the night.
Meanwhile, the sun slowly started to fade. Don’t worry, candles and then eventually the decorative lights in the square took over.
Once the sun sets it’s absolutely incredible in size to look at. If you look at the below picture, it’s approximately 1/4th of the total size of the event.
As I didn’t quite mention, but should be obvious by now: Everyone wears white. White clothing from head to toe. And preferably something a bit upscale or swanky looking. Classy might be the right word.
The massive square has a road that runs down the middle of it, and both sides of it were packed with participants. In recent years they’ve been slowly shrinking the number of participants down from 13,000 when we first did it, to about 9,000-10,000 this year. It simply makes it a bit more manageable and also opens up more venues.
Remember that officially the event isn’t official. The city turns a bit of a blind eye to it (and has for 25+ years), so it doesn’t require proper permits or the such. Though organizers do work with the city on a variety of fronts. The key to it working is really that people all do their part and leave it just as they found it each night. Like it never happened.
Once your main course is consumed, it’s a great time to head out and grab some photos.
There are usually numerous bands that show up and play well into the night. No fancy stages or amps, just the instruments they could carry in and out. Just like everyone else that night – bring only what you can carry.
Later in the evening sparklers are passed out to everyone by the organizers. Speaking of which, I should note there’s virtually no cost for this event. Each couple pays a mere 2EUR fee (so 1EUR per person). That’s it!
Soon the entire square is alive with people playing with fireworks!
Following which it was definitely time to cut the cake and have some dessert! The Girl got right on that!
You can see the whole place was still a bit foggy/smoky from the sparklers.
Or it might have been the table down the way that was still back cooking their main course. I believe the women’s face on the right best describes the fire situation as the rest of us saw it. One member of our group rushed over and almost doused the fire with the water/ice from the champagne bucket, thinking they were in trouble at one point. That display of assistance would have been the pinnacle of the night, had it been carried out to completion.
Though the province of Newfoundland would have never heard the end of it. I mean, not pointing any fingers or anything…
No worries, not too much caught fire at that end of their table.
After some cake and a bit more wine, it was back out to do one final loop around the square. At this point it as definitely dancing time!
Be it in a group around musicians…
…or apparently in the middle of the street with traffic. Whatever floats your boat.
Then at 12:15AM everyone begins to clean-up. Not a moment sooner. After which there’s 15 minutes to get things tidied up and just as you found them. Each couple brings at least one large trash bag, if not more. You take all your trash with you – just like you would when wilderness camping.
Then soon everyone simply fades off into the night, eventually leaving the square empty again.
A huge thanks to Roger for the organizing and inviting us again! It was once again an amazing night, and we look forward to many more!
For those that want to see my past two Dîner en Blanc, here’s the links to 2014 and 2015. Just click on the pictures.
Update! Here’s the 2016 video that David has put together!
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